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Behind on the Times: 2014 Edition

End of the year already?  Alright, guess I need to do the ol' Top Ten Movies of 2014*.  We'll do the same drill as last time.

For those who don't click on links, here's the deal: due to long work hours and a general lack of disposable income, I don't really get a chance to go out to see movies in the theater too often.  Since that would make a "Top Ten of 2014" list unfairly biased to the small sample of movies from 2014 I actually did see, I'm bending the rules with an asterisk.

Also, since I've already written about some of these movies before, I'm only doing a detailed write-up if I haven't previously posted something.  Hope you enjoy clicking on links!

* Including movies I saw for the first time in 2014.

10. The Act of Killing (2012)

Disturbing, thought-provoking, and actually important - three things that guarantee you'll only ever want to watch this once.  The Act of Killing is a difficult movie to watch in large part because it's something you experience more than you simply see.  Better people than I have praised this movie with great insight (and they actually did it on time, too), so I'll defer to them for the high-brow criticism.  Me?  I just think you need to suck it up and watch this.  It's practically required viewing.

Read more about what I thought of The Act of Killing (with some bonus content on Starship Troopers) here.

9. Bad Words (2013)

Last year I put Private Eye on my list of top ten movies.  I didn't have a brilliant reason to include it other than that I just really enjoyed watching it.  I'm going to say that Bad Words is this year's Private Eye: a movie I think I enjoyed disproportionately to the general population.

8. Triangle (2009)

A heady science-fiction movie is good enough by itself, but when you add in interesting social commentary, you pretty much can't go wrong.  Triangle is the kind of high-concept, low-budget thriller people used to make all the time and I'd recommend it to anybody.

Read my review of Triangle here.

7. The Orphanage (2007)

Few movies made me openly weep this year, so anything that hits me as hard as The Orphanage deserves close attention.  And while it may be a bit of a cheat - c'mon, child death is kind of a cheap shot if you're trying to tug at these o'l cardiac ropes - it was damn effective.

The Orphanage is doubly impressive because it was also at turns terrifying.  I love it when a movie can seamlessly take me from one emotional state to another, and this one did that in spades.  Every emotion except happiness, I guess.

6.  The Hunt (2012)

The Hunt is a difficult movie to watch because it tackles a subject nobody wants to talk about: how do you react to accusations of child molestation?

Our gut instincts tell us to rage and gnash teeth and seek punishment.  But the things that make us human - logic, reason, compassion - should encourage us to seek justice, not just vengeance.  And justice goes both ways: it includes not only punishing the guilty, but protecting the innocent.

So even in the face of a gut-churning charge like sexually assaulting a five year-old, we should maintain civility.  This is the central conflict of The Hunt, a tense drama about a man falsely accused.  The film does little more than illustrate the systemic destruction of a man's life at the hands of a mob, but it does it with wisdom, subtlety, and a devastating attention to detail.

Definitely you should see this movie, but maybe don't do it as a double feature with The Act of Killing.  That'll ruin your whole month.

5. A New Leaf (1971)

A New Leaf is a light-hearted dark comedy, which sounds like a contradiction, but actually works beautifully.  It features terrific performances from Walter Matthau and Elaine May (who also wrote/directed) and jokes that hold up wonderfully even 40+ years later.  I wasn't expecting to love A New Leaf this much when I saw it this year, but I think it may just be my new favorite romantic comedy of all time.

Read my review of A New Leaf here.

4. The LEGO Movie (2014)

I don't really have to sell this one, do I?  The LEGO Movie was a massive hit earlier this year and a sequel is already in the works.  I don't think I really need to add much more except to say that I, too, really enjoyed it.  Enough to put it at number four on my list.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

I really can't think of a Wes Anderson movie that I didn't like, and even compared to the rest of his resume, The Grand Budapest Hotel stands out.  For me, it's a toss-up between this one and Moonrise Kingdom as his best work.

Grand Budapest briefly touches on the idea of storytelling and mythology, which are topics that virtually every other film critic have explored in more depth.  But I kinda don't care about that stuff so much.  To me, the most amazing thing about Grand Budapest is that it's a solid adventure movie.  Adventure is a subgenre of film that's been kind of dying as of late - too many films are focused on epic plot lines with far-reaching consequencves, and not enough focus on the pure elation and thrill of simply going on a journey.  Grand Budapest takes its characters on a wild ride, but it never actually expands their conflict beyond what is basically just a cat-and-mouse tale.  It's grandiosity comes from its emotions and set design rather than an over-inflated sense of purpose.

It's also funny as hell.

2. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

I didn't get a chance to see this until the year was almost over, but I'm glad I did.  Edge of Tomorrow is brilliantly made.  It establishes a rich mythology behind its world in less than five minutes and then sets clear rules for its premise in the next fifteen - but it does all of this without resorting to pandering to the audience or relying too heavily on narration.  Then it goes one step further and actually ramps up its tension scene-by-scene while feeding new information at a snappy pace.

And then, on top of all that, it creates one of the most compelling protagonists I've seen in a movie in ages: Tom Cruise's Major Cage is a coward and would-be deserter who has to earn both his colleagues' (and our) respect.  So few movies seem willing to make their protagonists flawed these days.  I thought that was like Writing 101 - to give your character a stake?

Edge of Tomorrow is a thoroughly entertaining film and one of the smartest action movies in recent memory.  I can't recommend it enough.

1. Snowpiercer (2013)

You know how earlier I mentioned I like science-fiction movies with social commentary?  Snowpiercer kind of does it the wrong way - a little bit too on-the-nose.  Nevertheless, I did not see another movie this year with nearly as much flair, fun, or visual richness.  Snowpiercer feels almost tailor-made for me; every element seems to be perfectly calculated to win me over.

Read my review of Snowpiercer here.

And Now Some Other Nonsense....

Most Obscure Movie I Watched in 2014: Stuart Bliss

As of today, Stuart Bliss clocks in at a paltry 69 votes on IMDb, which means fewer people have seen it than have watched The Golden Palace.  A shame, too; this one deserves to be seen.

Read more about what I thought of Stuart Bliss here.

Most Surprising Turn-Around in Franchise Quality: Transformers 4

Transformers 4 might actually be one of the most important movies I saw this year.  It's a franchise I hate with a director whose output I generally dislike - even though I respect and admire his work.  It's also the fourth entry in a series, which should spell doom.  And yet I had a great time watching Transformers 4.  There's plenty of way better action and science-fiction movies that came out this year, but this one might have filled me with more hope than any other.

Read my review of Transformers 4 here.

Most Disappointing Ending: Anna / Mindscape

I forgot almost all about Anna after I wrote my initial review it in May of this year, but since then, it has grown to be far and away my most read blog post.  The common thread in all the people searching for it seems to be folks who want a better explanation of the ending, which I have tried (and failed, I think) to describe.  For the record, I have no idea what the story was with Mousey.

You can read my review of Anna, complete with post-scripts, here.

Worst Movie I Saw in 2014: Now You See Me

It was the first movie I wrote about in 2014, and I think it's fitting that it be the last I mention, too.  Now You See Me got under my skin for reasons I'm still not sure I understand.  It's not as morally offensive as a lot of the movies I complain about - no pervasive racism or misogyny - but it's just so anti-intellectual, so mind-numbingly dumb, so unashamedly stupid and wrought with hope that its audience is made up of lobotomized monkeys that I can't think of a movie that irritated me more in the entire year.

You can read more about how much I hated this movie here.